The Power of Partnership in Texas

As Teach For America marks its 25th anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on the power of partnership — with families, community groups, veteran teachers and school leaders and so many more. The bedrock of these connections is our regional communities — today, we’re in 52 of them nationwide.

But Texas holds a special place in my heart – both because nearly 4,000 corps members and alumni are working in communities across the state, and because it’s the place I call home.

I grew up in McAllen, Texas. I attended college at DePauw University in Indiana, and I joined Teach For America and taught in Phoenix, Arizona, for three years after college. I loved my community there, but I wanted to return home. I took a role leading Teach For America’s efforts in the Rio Grande Valley because I believe in the place I grew up and in the potential of all of our children.

McAllen holds some of the richest values and cultures in the country. But 25 years ago, it wasn’t the norm that someone would graduate from a high school in my hometown and head off to college and especially out of state — much less that they’d become a CEO one day.

Today, though, my journey isn’t the exception — more and more, it’s becoming the expectation. The young people of Texas have the chance to dream bigger than ever before. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, for instance, has increased its graduation rate from 72.8 percent in 1998 to over 90 percent today. Almost all high schools in South Texas districts have early-college options for students, setting a powerful expectation that students will go on to and through college. Many people and groups have helped make this change, and Teach For America has been an integral part of it.

In 1991, we started with a small group of scrappy, dedicated corps members and a handful of school partners in Houston willing to make the leap of faith it took to get them on board. Today, we’re no less dedicated — but we have a strong foundation of impact after two decades of being in this effort — and our corps members and alums are spread across Dallas Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and beyond. They have imagined solutions we never would have thought possible, and alongside many others, they’ve stepped up to help build a Texas in which our students have the same access and opportunities that all children deserve. That leap of faith of 25 years ago has turned into an unshakable courage of conviction about what is possible.

Our teachers make a meaningful impact in the classroom, and after their time in the corps, they continue to make change for the children of Texas in many ways. According to our latest state alumni data, 65 percent of Texas alums are still working in education or in jobs directly impacting low-income communities. More than 1,000 of them are teaching, over 80 are principals, and over 150 are assistant principals or school administrators. Thirty-six are school systems leaders.

Many challenges still remain in education here in Texas and nationwide. Still today, children from low-income communities in our state are less likely to make it to college than their affluent peers—and our children of color are faring less well on some academic measures than their white classmates. To change this, we must remain urgent and unyielding. But the points of progress and hope we’ve seen so far, and the opportunities we know are ahead, give us the energy, inspiration, and strength to keep marching forward.

This work has never been easy, and it will never be easy. But we’re in it for the long haul. In 1991, when Teach For America came to Texas, we couldn’t have imagined the progress we’ve seen today—we didn’t know that the founders of KIPP were in our midst, or the youngest member ever elected to the Dallas Independent School District’s Board of Trustees. Still today, we’re making a bold investment in future leaders—not just our corps members and alumni, but their students, who will be the next generation of change-makers in Texas and beyond.

Elisa Villanueva Beard

CEO, Teach for America